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UK election: Keir Starmer Labour win would impact AUKUS relationship, says Home Secretary James Cleverly

Latika M Bourke
The Nightly
Keir Starmer will weaken the Australia-UK relationship if he’s elected British prime minister, a Tory cabinet minister has claimed.
Keir Starmer will weaken the Australia-UK relationship if he’s elected British prime minister, a Tory cabinet minister has claimed. Credit: The Nightly, William Pearce

British Home Secretary James Cleverly has warned that if the UK’s opposition leader Keir Starmer is elected Prime Minister at next month’s poll it will weaken the Australia-UK relationship.

Speaking exclusively to The Nightly, Mr Cleverly said Brits living in Australia — who can vote given this election is the first open to British expats — should vote for the party of Brexit in the July 4 election because that had improved the bilateral relationship with a trade deal as well as AUKUS.

“Under the Conservative party the Anglo-Australian relationship has gone from strength to strength,” Mr Cleverly, who also served as foreign secretary, said.

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“We’ve got AUKUS which is going to be a game-changer not just for Australia’s defence but also Australia’s economic circumstances.”

When it was pointed out that the Labour party supports AUKUS, Mr Cleverly said it was the Tories that had put the submarine-building project in place, as well as joining the regional trade deal comprising Australia, Brunei Darussalam, Canada, Chile, Japan, Malaysia, Mexico, Peru, New Zealand, Singapore and Vietnam.

“All of these things were only possible really because of Brexit,” he said.

“Something the Labour Party opposed over and over again.

“The Labour Party seems to think the world stops at the eastern border of Europe, it doesn’t.”

Asked if he was claiming that Labour would weaken the bilateral relationship, Mr Cleverly said: “I have no doubt.”

“Because Labour seems incapable of understanding the world is bigger than just Western Europe.”

Opposition figures have told diplomats in private briefings that they will be pursuing a “Europe-first” approach to UK foreign policy.

Most of the frontbench, including shadow foreign secretary David Lammy and Mr Starmer, vehemently opposed Brexit.

But a UK Labour source labelled the comments “desperate nonsense”.

“If Labour wins the election, we will be proud to build on our deep and historic links with Australia and we are totally committed to AUKUS.”

In a speech to the US-based think tank the Hudson Institute last month, Mr Lammy said: “We have an unshakeable commitment to NATO, but we are rock solid behind AUKUS and our commitment to the Indo-Pacific too.”

Labour Party leader Sir Keir Starmer.
Labour Party leader Sir Keir Starmer. Credit: Alison Jackson/Getty Images

He was also one of the first foreign visitors to meet Foreign Minister Penny Wong and Treasurer Jim Chalmers following Australian Labor’s federal election win in 2022.

During last year’s coronation of King Charles III, Labor figures were invited to secret parties hosted by Prime Minister Anthony Albanese at the High Commissioner’s official residence Stoke Lodge.

Mr Albanese met Mr Starmer, Mr Lammy and the opposition’s defence spokesman John Healey for talks.

Former Labor Premier Mike Rann, who served as High Commissioner to the UK between 2013 and 2014 said Mr Cleverly’s claims would be proven untrue.

“Cleverly is not as clever as he thinks he is,” Mr Rann said.

“It is a desperate plea from someone who knows he will be out of a job very soon.”

Mr Rann said the result of two centre-left governments would make the relationship only stronger.

“Labor in Australia and Labour in Britain have a long and enduring friendship and strong personal ties just as Tories like Boris Johnson and Liz Truss had the strongest ties with the likes of Tony Abbot and Scott Morrison,” he said.

“If Keir Starmer becomes Prime Minister after July 4 he and Australian Prime Minister Anthony Albanese will lead two pro-AUKUS governments alongside the Biden Administration.”

The Tories are poised to lose power after 14 years in office and the backlash against the ageing government could be so bad, that they could be overtaken as the official opposition by the Liberal Democrats and outpolled by Nigel Farage’s Reform party.

Current polling suggests Labour victory could be even greater than Tony Blair’s 1997 landslide win.

UK-Australia relations began to languish after Britain joined the common market a move that blighted Australian and New Zealand trade and devastated many farmers.

In 2011, the former Tory leader William Hague became the first UK foreign secretary to visit Australia in 17 years and New Zealand in more than three decades, despite the three countries belonging to the same elite intelligence-sharing network the Five Eyes.

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